Author Christine M Knight's Blog
Saturday, July 16, 2011
One of the settings created for 'In and Out of Step' is a high school. It represents a microcosm of society with diverse generations. Everyone has a school experience and can relate to that environment. The school subplot, in part, works as an extended metaphor about BELONGING.
The school in the novel is a static workplace (one of the last bastions of male supremacy in fact) where the culture has become entrenched. That workplace dynamic is stable. The men are secure in their knowledge of one another including their shortcomings. Their security and comfort stems from knowledge and acceptance of the established pecking order and the way the workplace functions. A locker-room mentality and behaviour exists.
That world is threatened when a minority group (in this case, women) enters the workplace.
During the drive to the boarding house, Cassie sifted through the day’s images. The staff room was cramped and hot. The men were a defensive pack obviously resentful of female intrusion. The English Head appeared to be a control freak.
The women arrive with their focus on the job. Like all workers, they were trained to do a job; issues related to BELONGING were not part of that training. Their very presence in the workplace requires a sensitivity that the men and management are not prepared for, have not thought about, or indeed care about. The women are an alien culture that was 'understood' from a distance.
The men not only resent the presence of the women but also experience discomfort because what they see as the 'natural order of the workplace' is upset. The men want to retain the status quo although not everyone is prepared to take countermeasures to achieve it. Some men choose to be sidelined in the tacit resistance - they become bystanders.
‘Most uncharitable of you,’ Van der Huffen responded, looking at Talbut and his group of men, ‘in word and planned deed.’
‘Shabby,’ Selton added.
‘You follow our drift?’ Van der Huffen said to the men, ‘A reflection of the ignoble spirit that drives —’
‘Give it a rest,’ Fuller said. ‘We get it! You’re not party to that book.’
‘Were Selton and I ever?’
‘And sadly the wheels are already wobbling on the fac¬ulty wagon,’ Talbut said. ‘So ladies, how did you find your classes?’
The other men don't openly plot to get rid of the minority group, but they don't compromise or give ground either. Therefore, what follows is a natural resistance to change in the hope that the
In real terms in the novel, that translated to a change in the way business was done within the faculty and the withdrawal of collegiate support for the newcomers that previously had been standard practice amongst the men. The women were given the hardest and worst jobs to do. They were denied access to corporate knowledge to do the jobs. The women became isolated and alienated from the corporate group, in this case the male English teaching staff. The passive aggression of the men translated to a lack of support for the women and a subsequent shift in attitudes toward classroom discipline. Consequently, the women were subjected to abuse and harassment and expected to 'go it alone'.
The treatment of the women mirrors the previously observed and learnt behaviours of the faculty men who are entrenched and indoctrinated in the wider school system and its processes. The Coachman subplot explores how the system reacts to efforts to achieve change. His recognition of the need for change involved a partial withdrawal from the larger group and its practices. Within the wider system, Coachman is subject to the same process of estrangement as the women.
You will find the complete discussion in Belonging: A Related Text Companion: In and out of Step. You can buy the companion from this website or from Amazon
Friday, July 15, 2011
ALL PAGE REFERENCES REFER TO THE SECOND EDITION OF 'IN AND OUT OF STEP'
Belonging is a deep genetic drive. We are herd creatures first and foremost. You can see this in even the smallest of children who may not play together but like to play near each other.
The decision to leave the familiar circle of family and friends and move to a new area where you don't have any connections or any knowledge of the area rates high on the stress and isolation. The word bereft comes to mind for a person in such a situation. Bereft has connotations not just of a gnawing sense of loss but of an emptiness tinged with resignation to the new circumstance. That sense lingers on the edge of consciousness even when you're having a good time in your new landscape.
The theme of Belonging in 'In and Out of Step' is explored through characterisation, place context, the juxtaposition of perspectives and experiences, ritual, language, and through the extended metaphor of dance.
Focus: central character or protagonist
Techniques: characterisation, choice and use of context (place and situation), plot action, language, dialogue, use of flashback sequences, imagery, symbolism, the use of parallels and contrasts.
Cassie Sleight, a championship dancer, in seeking a seachange at the start of her teaching career, chose exile from her familiar circle of family, friends, and the dance world for compelling, personal reasons. Finding herself in an impossible situation, she opted to remove herself from the pain of it. Her pain stemmed from a change in relationship dynamics. She had found herself ousted from what had previously been a close relationship between three friends, one of whom she had considered as her soul mate (affinity). Feeling alienated and bereft, she left.
This is shown in the text by the use of contrasting characterisation and the back-stories (contextual information) of Cassie Sleight, Jake Dominguez, and Melissa Pratt. That characterisation and those back-stories show how personal values and expectations can cause conflict and result in the breakdown of relationships and alienation.
All three characters grew up in patriarchal homes - male dominated with women in traditional subservient roles. Cassie rejected the adult male and female role and relationship models of her parents' generation. She had seen the pain and disempowerment the women in that world experienced.
As children, Cassie had an affinity with Jake Dominguez and grew up with him as 'best mates'. Melissa, though a member of the friendship group did not share the close bonds held by Jake and Cassie. This is shown in the text through a flashback scene to their childhood:
The bite of winter certainly had little effect on Cassie and Jake’s games. Matched in indomitable spirit and rugged in woollen jumpers, they scaled monster trees, teeter-tottered on bikes along dam edges, and gallumped through paddocks, startling rabbits while cattle ruminated in the bending grasses. Melissa, timid and more interested in playing Barbies than adventure, lagged behind them, complaining. Under pressure from Leonie, Cassie and Jake modified their games to Hide-and-Seek so Melissa could play.
Immersed in her novel, Leonie knew little of the children’s friendship beyond the daredevil spirit of the duo and their resentment of Melissa’s intrusion. In later years, Leonie knew only that dance forged Cassie and Jake in partnership with Melissa an envious outsider (page 84).
Cassie and Jake's affinity is demonstrated by their like-mindedness in games, their shared desire for adventure, their inseparable friendship, and indomitable spirit. The word indomitable refers to a fearless and unconquerable spirit. Their relationship demonstrates the values underpinning the concept of belonging.
By contrast, Melissa's desire to be included in the friendship group demonstrates Melissa's perception that she belongs in the group. This is also the perception of Cassie's mother, Nancy, and her sister, Leonie. Melissa's perception is reflected by her complaining which represents a form of protest that her participation and interests were not considered and should have been. The fact that the children's games change to accommodate Melissa is a reflection of her claim on group membership and that she has a place within the small friendship group, albeit as a fringe member.
The excerpt clearly shows the difference between the concept and perception of belonging. It was Leonie's perception that Melissa belonged to the children's group that led to Cassie and Jake accommodating Melissa in play. Leonie was able to make Cassie and Jake include Melissa because of Leonie's role within the children's group and because the children were a subset of their respective parent's friendship group.
The excerpt also shows that from an early age, Melissa accepted and acted the role models and values in her world through Barbie games. The Barbie games symbolically represent preoccupations with body image, attractiveness, and acceptance of traditional female roles. Those interests and preoccupations place young Melissa as a potentially traditional female.
Jake's affinity with Cassie was also demonstrated in their teenage years when Cassie at sixteen experienced the grief associated with the death of a grandparent.
When her grandfather died a few months before her sixteenth birthday, she had not cried. At his funeral, the rest of the family had been awash with emotion. Her mother had been inconsolable and leant on her father. Leonie, her older sister, make-up tear-tracked and mascara running, had tried to provide support to Cassie who looked ill, but as the emotion of the service built, Leonie’s grief had given way to sobs. During the wake, Jake, Cassie’s soul mate from childhood, had found her sitting silently in her grandfather’s closet, inside Pop’s dark blue overcoat. (page 17)
Their affinity in the above excerpt is demonstrated by Jake's recognition of Cassie's emotional need, his subsequent search for her, his understanding of where she would seek solace, and his desire to comfort her. These behaviours are aspects of characterisation selected by the author to show the close bonds shared by this pair.
Cassie and Jake's relationship became increasingly contaminated by the transmitted values and expectations of the adult world around them - contextual aspects of place (physical, social, and psychological). Cassie and Jake increasingly clashed in the teenage years because Jake unthinkingly accepted the values of the male adult world around them while Cassie rejected them. In particular, Jake accepted his father's values and tried to live up to his father's expectations which were shaped by his father's culture (Spanish) and the attitudes of his father's generation. This is shown in the novel by:
Cassie knew all too well Mavis’ look. Jake’s mother and hers assumed the expression whenever their husbands flirted. Cassie had guarded against it when Jake followed his father’s lead. She knew even more the feeling: acid eating away the inner core of confidence. Was it always this way? Once possessed, always insecure?(page 146)
The metaphoric comparison to 'acid' emphasises the destructive impact of unfaithful male behaviours on women and their relationships. The use of the word 'possessed' equates marital relationships to male ownership rather than a relationship based on a mutual sense of belonging. Therefore, shared qualities that predispose people to belong together are not the sole determinant of whether or not a person ultimately feels she or he belongs. The values and attitudes of the world (place) in which a person lives also shape notions of identity, human relationships, and a sense of belonging.
You will find the complete discussion in Belonging: A Related Text Companion: In and out of Step. You can buy the companion from this website or from Buy from Amazon
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
As the title 'In and Out of Step' suggests, the plot is built around character relationships and the themes of:
- belonging and alienation
- loss and gain
Central to the theme of BELONGING is the ripple effect of life events on relationships and in a community and the way those events and relationships shape people and their perceptions of belonging or not belonging.
The central plot revolves around Cassie Sleight's quest to belong against a backdrop of a world undergoing social change. Her story traces how Cassie is shaped by events, people, and experiences in her world - past and present. The world of Keimera functions as a character in its own right.
The story opens with Cassie arriving in the seemingly idyllic coastal NSW town of Keimera. She has discarded her dream of a career in dance and left home. Dance influences how she interprets the world and how she deals with its adversities.
Having left the familiar circle of family and friends in search of a seachange, Cassie starts her teaching career in the English faculty of Keimera High. Her workplace represents one of the last bastions of male supremacy and her male co-workers want to keep it that way. She boards at Madison House, historically significant and representing something of the former pastoral glory of the region.
In the high school setting, Cassie comes into contact with Mark Talbut, a man struggling to be modern yet threatened by power shifts in the workplace and society. At Madison House, Cassie experiences new perspectives on relationships and is challenged to become the woman she was meant to be and not what circumstance made her.
While readers learn about Cassie's new world and the barriers to her fitting in and becoming accepted, the secrets of her past surface through a series of flashback scenes. Those scenes reveal why Cassie felt she no longer belonged in the world that she left behind in Sydney and why she chose to be in exile.
As the story unfolds, Cassie realises something potentially sinister is happening in her new community. What should she do about it? Is the so-called 'good guy' really a wolf or just a man out of step with the times?
Cassie's quest to belong occurs in the workplace, in her new social and personal arenas. It is only after coming to terms with her past that she is able to move forward into a very different future. Like the phoenix rising from the ashes, she is reborn through adversity.
'She thought of all the people she had met. Some wore masks that disguised their real intent. Others remained oblivious of the impact of their actions. A number rang true like quality crystal. She was lucky to know the difference now.'
In the novel, Cassie’s journey to belong contrasts with the journeys of Mavis Mills, Michael Madison, Mark Talbut, Kate Denford, Samantha Smith, and Rajes Chandran. The stories of secondary characters add dimension to my exploration of the novel's themes. Absolutely every character experience serves a function in this about tale about life and love. You may have to think about how and why.
'In and Out of Step' is also a snapshot of Australian life and some key issues in play at the time. Those issues remain hot topics today. It is based on extensive research and placed within a fictional context.
Strands of colour,
Separate yet interwoven.
Influences the weaving,
Defines the other.
A complex tapestry:
Indiscernible when close;
Recognisable at a distance.
HSC Area of Study students should also have a look at the 90 second YouTube dance video at http://youtu.be/5HdLfeX6d78 The dance video works well as a related text for BELONGING.
The team here have also provided an in depth analysis of the dance video to help students http://www.christinemknight.com.au/author-christine-m-knights-blog/belonging-a-related-text-analysis-for-hsc-students